April 23, 2015

Sen. Brown Opening Statement at Banking Committee’s Hearing on Surface Transportation Reauthorization

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – released the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s hearing entitled “Surface Transportation Reauthorization: Building on the Successes of MAP-21 to Deliver Safe, Efficient, and Effective Public Transportation Services and Projects.”

Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow.

Senator Sherrod Brown - Opening Statement

Hearing: “Surface Transportation Reauthorization: Building on the Successes of MAP-21 to Deliver Safe, Efficient, and Effective Public Transportation Services and Projects”  

April 23, 2015

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I think Tuesday’s hearing with Acting FTA Administrator McMillan was a good start to our Committee’s work on the next transportation bill. 

I’m looking forward to further discussion of the key issues raised on Tuesday with our witnesses today. 

I was struck on Tuesday by the discussion on the huge backlog of repairs we face. The Department of Transportation has made a compelling case that our nation’s public transportation providers face a tremendous challenge with aging facilities and vehicles. $86 billion of unaddressed repairs is a huge deficit, and without new investment, that national backlog is growing by $2.5 billion every year. 

MAP-21 set FTA on a path to help transit agencies better manage their systems with a new national standard for measuring the conditions of their facilities and vehicles. This attention to asset management will pay dividends in the years ahead, particularly in regard to the reliability of our systems, but better measurement alone doesn’t fix things.    

We know reliability is an issue. On Tuesday, we heard from Senator Warren and Senator Warner about how the reliability of the transit systems in Boston and Washington, DC, have suffered because of age and under-investment, and those particular agencies have been tested further by extreme winter weather in Boston and the tragic safety failure at Washington’s L’Enfant Plaza.  

We also need for every transit system to be able to offer reliable service. For a low-income worker traveling between one or more jobs, getting home or picking up a child on-time is essential. 

On the safety front, I’m looking forward to working with the Chairman to review FTA’s safety program under MAP-21 to ensure that it has the tools needed and that safety gaps identified in accident investigations are being addressed.  

But as we talk about issues of repair and new projects, I hope our Committee does not lose focus that the most pressing issue facing our transportation system is the flat, unstable funding that Congress has delivered. Since 2009, our surface transportation programs have been operating under short term extensions 11 times and federal funding has been flat, except for small increases for inflation under MAP-21. The Highway Trust Fund faces a shortfall again this summer.  

Within transit programs, the failure of the federal government to keep up with transportation needs has clear consequences.

First, the nation’s transit agencies are going to fall further behind and won’t meet the record demand for service if we don’t invest in both repairs and new capacity. Between 1995 and 2014 transit ridership increased 39 percent, while our population increased only 21 percent. That means we need to put the Mass Transit Account and the New Starts program on a much better trajectory with new funding. 

On Tuesday we heard about the need to review MAP-21’s bus funding, and that will be addressed again today. Our Committee could look at formula or competitive programs for buses for the next bill, but unless the baseline funding grows, there will be no new means to buy buses. 

Finally, when Congress fails to invest in transportation, we don’t just fail commuters, we are wasting an opportunity to propel our economy, particularly American construction and manufacturing. 

In the witnesses’ prepared testimony for today, there are estimates of between 16,000 and 50,000 jobs created for every $1 billion spent on transit depending on the type of investment, and those jobs are spread across the country. The City of Cincinnati is purchasing streetcars that will be made in upstate New York. Washington Metro is buying new rail cars that are being made in Nebraska. There are also opportunities to keep more of those manufacturing jobs here in the U.S. with Buy America requirements. 

Three of our witnesses today have front-line experience at transit systems. And I am happy to see the U.S. Chamber agrees with them on the importance of public transportation investment. I look forward to the witnesses’ testimony.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.